The Journal of Limnology has published a special issue on freshwater biodiversity data, the result of a collaboration with GBIF to increase the data coverage and taxonomic representation for freshwater-dependent species. Taken together, the special issue's 11 papers added 44 new datasets that comprise more than 230,000 species occurrence records, mostly from Europe with others from Africa and New Zealand.
The partnership has also served an equally important role of engaging members of a scientific subdiscipline historically underrepresented in GBIF and introducing them to its data standards and practices. The 65 authors whose work fills the special issue come from 28 organizations from 10 countries, each of which is now home to in-house experience with sharing biodiversity data.
"The results of our joint call for data papers with GBIF represent an impressive success story, and we hope its example will prompt other researchers to share their data on freshwater biodiversity," said Diego Fontaneto, co-editor-in-chief (with Michela Rogora) of the Journal of Limnology and co-author on two of the papers. "This initial pool of data and the experience our authors have gained by preparing it for wider reuse offers a compelling example of how our domain can use FAIR and open data to support of policy decisions and actions that help protect and restore the habitats we care about."
Guest editor Lyudmila Kamburska details the overall achievements in a preface to the special issue.
The geographic, taxonomic, temporal and geospatial range and scales covered by the data are themselves diverse. While most of the records are of animals (218,042), arthropods account for nearly half of these (103,908), and there are nearly as many rotifers (49,234) as there are vertebrates (53,950). Chromista (8,254), plants (5,496), bacteria (1,901) and protozoa (457) also surface in the collection.
The paper from a team of scientists from Uganda's National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) is unique among those in the special issue by describing not just a single dataset, but rather a collection of 34 individual datasets. The 56 thousand records in this collection span more than three decades (1971-2022) and encompass surveys of most of the country's water bodies for three major freshwater taxa: zooplankton, macroinvertebrates, and fish. Lead author Laban Musinguzi also serves as a GBIF regional support contractor for Africa through the European Union-funded Biodiversity Information for Development programme.
The individual datasets span continents (Africa), countries (Italy, Spain, Uganda, New Zealand and South Africa), and individual watersheds, parks, waterbodies and Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. The 48,992 records in the Canterbury Museum Mayfly Collection dataset include 55 of the 58 Ephemeroptera species known for New Zealand. The two data papers on rotifers increased local knowledge of these microscopic wheel animals, providing records for 956 African species and 584 Italian ones. These totals exceed those reported in the most recent reviews of rotifers in Africa (765) and in Italy (483).
"GBIF continues to illuminate biodiversity by publishing data, and therefore drawing science and policy attention, on key underrepresented realms. Like the reflective surfaces of freshwater habitats that conceal the species that depend on them, freshwater biodiversity is often neglected in wider policy discourses in spite of its recognized importance in international directives and conventions," said Dmitry Schigel, scientific officer at the GBIF Secretariat. "The data that the special issue's authors provide on life in lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands forms a baseline for monitoring, conserving and restoring of these life-giving environments and the irreplaceable organisms that inhabit them. Focusing on freshwater data is our latest step towards filling gaps and increasing taxonomic equality."